Wrongful termination is the illegal firing of an employee by an employer. Most waged employees in Maine are employed under what are called at-will employment terms. Employers can in most cases terminate an employee’s employment for any reason at any time with certain limited exceptions. Maine employment law classifies termination of an at-will employee to be illegal if the employer breaches one or more state laws. The most common breach is termination as a result of discrimination against the employee.
A worker who is employed under at-will employment conditions who is terminated illegally may sue for wrongful termination if the process of complaint with a relevant state or federal body has been exhausted without satisfactory resolution.
What Classifies as Wrongful Termination in Maine?
Maine has strict wrongful termination laws that prevent an employer from firing one of their employees for certain reasons which the state and federal governments consider illegal. You will need to be sure that you have been wrongfully terminated as it is categorized in the law as well as have evidence that supports your complaint.
Most waged employment in Maine is considered at-will employment. This means that in most cases employers can terminate their employees for almost any reason without having to explain why they are doing so.
Employees also have the right to leave their job whenever they want under at-will conditions. There are exceptions to these conditions which are considered wrongful termination. These include the following reasons for termination:
- discrimination because of one’s age, gender, disability, ethnic identity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, pregnancy;
- whistleblowing, i.e. informing government agencies of illegal activities at work;
- refusal to carry out illegal activities at work;
- applying for workers’ compensation;
- taking leave for family or medical reasons as stipulated by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
- breach of employment contract where one exists.
What is at-will employment?
At-will employment is commonplace across the United States and Maine is no exception. At-will employment means that both employers and employees can terminate employment for any reason or for no reason at all. Some employees are employed under the terms of an employment contract. The contract determines the conditions of employment such as hourly wages, work hours, benefits of employment, duties and how employment can be terminated. Employees who are employed under an employment contract cannot be fired at will.
An employer who is found to have fired an employee because of their age, gender, religion, ethnicity, color, disability or race may face penalties if the employee decides to file a lawsuit against the employer for wrongful termination. Generally, no ‘right to sue’ in Maine will be granted until the complaint has been brought before the relevant state or federal agency such as the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) or the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).
What are My Rights in Wrongful Termination?
An at-will employee can legally have their employment terminated at any time without the employer needing to provide a reason unless it can be shown that the termination of employment has occurred because of any one of the following reasons:
- being a whistleblower;
- discrimination based on the categories listed above. This is probably the commonest reason for wrongful termination.
- making a complaint about discrimination or any other workplace issue such as workers compensation;
- taking leave under the Family Leave Act;
- unwillingness or refusal to commit a crime under orders or suggestion by an employer.
Wrongful Termination Legislation
There are various laws that protect workers from illegal (wrongful) termination. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These are all federal laws and protect workers principally against obvious forms of discrimination. The categories of protected workers from discrimination are called “protected classes”. Maine has its own state legislation, the Maine Human Rights Act.
The main federal agency to file a complaint with is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), which investigates and censures breaches of wrongful termination laws in workplaces of 15 or more employees. The Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) investigates complaints of wrongful termination in smaller workplaces and liaises with the EEOC. The MHRC also investigates incidences of discrimination or retaliation in housing and education as well as employment.
Suing for Wrongful Termination
In Maine, you must bring your employment complaint to a state or federal body before you can take a wrongful termination case to the Maine Superior Court. The agency you file a complaint with depends on the reason for wrongful termination. If it is based on discrimination against you because you belong to a protected category, you can either file your complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) or the federal equivalent, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). The EEOC only investigates cases of employment where there are 15 or more employees, so if you were employed in a smaller workplace, you should file your complaint with the MHRC.
Where there are other reasons for termination of your employment which you believe were illegal, the first step is to file a complaint with the Maine Department of Labor.
You can sidestep an investigation by one of these agencies after 180 days have passed after filing a complaint and there has been no satisfactory resolution. The agency will issue a ‘right to sue’ letter which allows you to go ahead with a civil lawsuit in the Maine Supreme Court.
Before you file a complaint, you need to ensure you have substantial evidence backing up your claim of wrongful termination based on an illegal action by your employer. You will need evidence of employment, such as pay stubs, any employment contract if such a thing exists, who fired you, what you were told if anything when you were fired.
If the case goes to court, there are certain remedies which you may seek from your employer if the case is judged in your favor. These include any combination of the following:
- back and/or forward pay;
- damages for emotional distress;
- punitive damages;
- reinstatement of employment.
Wrongful Termination Process
Each agency works within recognized statutes of limitation, such as 365 days from the date of the wrongful termination for the EEOC. Once a complaint has been received, it will be investigated. Your employer will probably be contacted.
The agency may attempt to find a negotiated resolution or impose penalties against the employer if proof of a breach of the law is discovered. They will need to have evidence submitted b you together with your completed complaint form.
You will be allowed to take legal action through a civil court if either agency cannot resolve your complaint. For example, the EEOC will provide you with a “right to sue” letter.
Wrongful Termination Lawyers in Maine
You will find it very helpful to hire an employment lawyer if you have been wrongfully terminated at work. The lawyer can help you at any stage of your complaint, but if you do decide to sue your employer you are strongly advised to use an employment lawyer.
Suing an employer for wrongful termination is not an easy or straightforward process. You can contact an employment lawyer if you are considering suing your employer or need legal help filing an initial complaint with a relevant state or federal agency. The lawyer will understand the process you need to go through intimately and will be able to assess whether you have good grounds for a wrongful termination case against your employer. The lawyer may be able to advise you about time constraints and evidence you need to support your case.
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